|Selected Writings, Vol. 3,
REMINISCENCES OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
ONE of the saintliest of women, as well as one of our
finest poets, passed away into that rest which she craved so long, when Christina Rossetti
died. Her life was a song of praise. This song had two strains. Both were ever present,
but the austerer was the dominant and the more prolonged. For the last twenty years her
voice had been cloistral ; but all the time the pain of the world lay at her heart. When
she was a girl, and when she was a woman old in suffering, in experience, and relatively
old in years, she wrote in the same strain. A child-woman at sixteen of she already felt,
with something of pain and with much bitterness, the poignancy of the old world cry
"Vanity of Vanities, is Vanity!" An extraordinary lyric utterance from one so
young and in externals happily circumstanced is this sonnet, written before'the author was
Ah woe is me for pleasure that is vain,
Ah, woe is me for glory that is Past;
Pleasure that bringeth sorrow at the last,
Glory that at the last bringeth no gain
So saith the sinking heart; and so again
It shall say till the mighty angel-blast
Is blown, making the sun and moon agahst
And showering down the stars like sudden rain.
And evermore men shall go fearfully
Bending beneath their weight of heaviness;
And ancient men shall lie down wearily;
And strong men shall rise up in weariness;
Yea, even the young shall answer sighingly
Saying one to another: "How vain it!"
I have no record of the exact date I met Miss Rossetti
for the first time; but as it was not more than a few months after I had come to know
Frederick Shields, the artist with whom Rossetti was wont to declare, lay the hopes of
religious art in England, it must have been in the autumn of 1880.*
* Though a painter and decorative artist of remarkable
individuality and distinction in the genre of Religious Art, Frederick Shields'
name is still relatively unfamiliar in England. His earliest adequate recognition, beyond
that of Rossetti and the limited Rossettian circle, was in a paper published in The
Atlantic Monthly for October 1882, entitled An English Interpreter. He is best
known by his decorations in fresco and stained glass in the chapel of Eaton Hall,
Cheshire, and by his decorations in oil on the walls and entrance of the Chapel of Rest,
in the Bayswater Road, London.
I recall easily the particulars of that first meeting. I
had called upon some friend's in Bloomsbury, and found there members of the family, and
two guests, seated before a (for the moment) flameless fire. Neither gas nor lamp
illuminaated the room; I was not surprised at the gloom, for this "shadow-time,"
as it was called in that house, was a luxury habitual there. The appearance of a caller
who was not a stranger caused only a momentary interruption in what had been an animated
conversation and almost immediately the lady, whose voice was audible as I entered,
resumed the rapid course of an extrordinarily fluent diction. She was giving a vivid
account of her experiences with slum children in the country. "Moreover," she
continued, "I am convinced that it is not possible for any one to live a happy life
unless he or she had at leat a brief least a brief sojourn in the country every
At this point a singulary clear rippling laugh interrupted the speaker. I noticed at once
its quality as well as its spontanity and winsomeness. This was followed by a few words,
and, pleased as I was by the laugh, I was more pleased by the tone with which the words
were spoken. The voice had a bell-like sound. The proununciation
was unusually distinct, and the words came away from the mouth and lips as
cleanly as a trill from a bird. Though so exquisitely distinct the voce
was not n the least mannered or affected, and except for a peculiar lift in
the intonation, there was no reason to suppose it was not that of an Englishwoman.
"Ah," she said, "there comes
in the delightful enthusiast. But, Mrs.
_______, I assure you that your good heart is mistaken. There are hundreds and
thousands of us who, for one reason or another, never escape from London.
I may speak for myself, alas, who am not only as confirmed a Londoner as was
Charles Lamb, But really doubt if it would be good for me, now,
to sojourn often or long in the country; and you must
remember that there are more Lambs and Wordsworths among us townfolk and that as
we are bred so we live."
"But," broke in the lady to whom she was speaking, "you yourself must
admit that you would be far happier in the peace and beauty of the country
which is infinitely more poetic, in every way so much more beautiful, than the
How cool and quiet the bell-like voice sounded, after impetuous utterance which had
interrupted it! "I am of those who think with Bacon that the Souls of the living are
the Beauty of the World!"
"That is a beautiful saying; but now let me ask, do not you yourself find your best
inspiration in the country?"
"I?" with a low deprecating laugh, "Oh dear, no! I know it ought to
be so! But I don't derive my inspiration, as you call it---though if you will allow me to
say so, I think the word is quite inapposite, and to be used of very few, and then only in
a most litteral sense---I don't derive anything from the country first hand! Why, my
knowledge of what is called nature is that of the town sparrow, or, at most, that of the
pigeon which makes an excursion occasionally from its home in Regent's Park aor Kinsington
Gardens. And, what is more, I am fairly sure that I am in the place that suitsnme best.
After all, we may enjoy the majesty and mystery of the ocean without ever venturing upon
it; and I and thousands of other Londoners, from the penniless to those who are a
relatively poor as I am, are in the position of those who love the sea, and understand
too, in a way, its beauty and wonder, even though we reside in Bloomsbury or
I forget what followed, but a minute or two later a
servant lighted the lamp. As she did so, I caught a glimpse of my sweet voiced neighbour,
a short plain woman, apparently advanced in middle age, with, as the most striking feature
at first glance, long heavy eyelids over strangely protruding eyes. I noticed that she
veiled herself abruptly as she rose and said goodbye. As she moved away it was with what I
can describe only as an awkward grace.
One thing after another interfered with the question that was on my lips, and the outcome
was that I left without knowing who the lady was whose words and voice had impressed me so
much. Two things remained with me beyond that day; not, strangely enough, primarily, the
memory of the delicate precision and natural rhythum of her speech or the peculiar quality
of her voice, but the rapid, almost furtive way in which she had drawn ner veil over her
too conspicuous eyes, as soon as the room was lighted, and her concurrent haste to
begone---this and the quotation from Bacon, "The Souls of the Living are the Beauty
of the World." It is a noble saying, and its significance would then have been
enhanced for me if I had known that I heard it for the first time from the lips of
Ultimately, I came to know her through Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Before this I had been
misled as to her attributes and idiosyncrasies. My informnant would have it that Miss
Rossetti was a gloomy and even bigoted religionist; that, recluse as she was socially, she
was correspondingly morose in herself, that she was morbidly sensitive to her appearance,
having at one time been comely, and even in her youth, beautiful in a word, whe was now
unable to reconcile herself to her altered looks, a change due to an illness which had
affected the eyeballs.
One night, when Rossetti was narrating some anecdotes of The Germ days,
he begged to speak of his sister Christina. Noting my interest he added further
particulars not only concerning "the genius of the family" as he called her, but
also about his other sister, Maria Francesca, his brother, and his parents---details then
unkown to me, though in the main now so fimiliar to all lovers of the poetry of Gabriel
and Christina Rossetti.
He had a great admiration for his elder sister." She was the Dante of our
family," he said incidently. "Christina," he added, "was the daughter
of what was noblest in our father and beautiful in our mother. But no one was ever afraid
of Christina. Maria was a born leader; Christina a born apostle. In my boyhood I loved
Maria better than any on in the world. I don't think she ever came into her proper
inheritance. She might have topped us all, though of course she hadn't Christina's genius.
She used to be pitiful to her younger sister, who was delicate and rather demure; and
Christina simple worshipped her. I remember how shocked they were when, having expressed
their envy of their martyred sisters of olden days, I said they had more than their share
of martyrdom in having a vagabond brother to look after."
When she was still a child (not more than twelve, if Rossetti was right) Christina became
poignantly melancholy whenever alone. About this time she had a great wish to write the
most beautiful hymns of modern days. Her earnest efforts, however, were absolutely
commonplace, til one memoable Sunday afternoon when she composed some lines that
were good enough to make Maria prophesy that the young writer would be the poet of the
family! A nataive shyness was enhanced by the habitual self- disparagement with which she
treated herself, in contrast to her sister. Her intellectual development, however, was
rapid. How, indeed, could it have been other than precocious? The Rossetti household was,
probably, the most remarkable in London. Gabriel Rosetti, patriot, exile, poet,
philospher, mystic, student, artist, and most genial and winsome man of strong character,
was "a father in a million," as his elder son loved to speak of him.
Mrs. Frances Mary Lavinia Rossetti though English by birth and maternal parentage, was
daughter of an Italian gentleman, well known in his day, Gaetano Polidori, as the
translator of the poetry of Milton into sympathetic , if not majestic or masterly Italian.
Many distinguished people came to the Rossetti household, and divers eddies of new thought
of the age circulated through that little society. Then, were there even four such
children in one family as Maria, Babgriel,William and Christina? Two were endowed with
high as well as rare and distinctive genius, and all four moved in an atmosphere pregnant
with stirring ideals, deep emotions of strong minds, and vivid aspirations.
Christina's childhood was spent almost wholly in London. Her real excitement, she declared
once, her first real excitement away from home-life and the familiar aspects of the
streets of Western London, was afforded by a visit she paid with Gabriel to the Zoological
Gardens. The two amused themselves, after their first vivid interest, by imagining the
thoughts of the caged animals. Christina thought the birds should be honoured by plaintive
verses, but Gabriel narrated such whimsical biobraphies of the birds and beasts that
poetry gave way to fun. Distinct as the impression was, it was not so durable vivid as
that of the walk of the two children, hand in hand, across the solitudes of Regent's Park.
"with a magnificent sunset, which Gabriel declared he could see setting fire to the
distant trees and roof ridges."
Despite his interest in animals, which became a freakish fad with him in later life,
Rosetti never really observed loving and closely, except from the artist's point of view.
He would notice the effect of light on leaves, or the white gleam on windy grass; but he
could never tell whether the leaves were those of the oak or the elm, the beech or the
chestnut. If he cared for birds or bird-music, it was without heed of distinctions, with
no knowledge of the individuality of lilt in the song of thrush or blackbird, robin or
linnet. But sometimes, his sister told me, he would come home with a spray of blossom,
"it was always 'blossom' merely, not pear, or apple,or cherry blossom," and once
or twice with a small bird or animal in a wicker cage, and would be as earnest and closely
observant of all details as any naturalist would be.
It was about this time Christina had a dream, which Gabariel promised to depict and
"send to the Academy." (This was before The Germ days.)
She dreamed that she was walking in Regent's Park at dawn and that, just as the sun rose,
she saw what looked like a wave of yellow light sweep from the trees. This
"wave" was a multitude of canaries. Thousands of them rose, circled in a
gleaming mass, and then, dispersed in every diretion. In her dream it was borne in upon
her that all the canaries in London had met, and were now returning to their cages!
Rosetti was delighted with the idea. He projected some pictorial presentment of the dream
in which the visionary was to be clad in yellow and that the ground underfoot was to be
covered with primroses. But either the impulse waned or he did not feel able to do justice
to the subject then, and so postponed it, or, most likley, other matters of moment
dissapated the intention.
When she told me this episode Miss Rossetti added that Gabriel had an idea of writing a
poem on the motive, so had she, but she did not write, as she was always waiting for the
promised poem from him. "He declared the 'motive' was symbolical, and had some
strange personal significance; but he never explained the one or the other, and I don't
believe there was anything but whim behind his words. He was always like that as far back
as I can remember, though as whimsical and more moody as a youth than as a boy or man. In
this respect he was very different from William, who was invariably simple, direct, and as
quietly cordial as he is now. In fact I was the ill-tempered one of the family; my
dear sister used to say that she had the good sense, William the good-nature,
Gabriel the good heart and I the bad temper of our much beloved father and mother."
It is quite true that Christina Rossetti had to cope with an irritable temper, due to a
physical aliment. For myself, I never saw a trace of it, but no doubt this tendency had
been subdued long before I knew her. An old friend of hers told me that she changed
completely in this respect after the death of her sister in 1876, to who she was
passionagely attached, and for whose strong and saintly character she had an admiration
that was almost extreme. Christina was wont to declare that if Maria had been the younger
instead of the elder sister, she would have become famous, but that her home duties and
yearly intensifying religious scruples and exercises prevented her. Certainly the elder
Miss Rosetti shared in that precocity which distinguished the whole family.
Christina began to compose at the age of eleven; Gabriel was in his teens when he wrote a
poem which has become a classic, and stands as one of the most remarkable lyric
achievements in English literature and William wrote verse of high quality before he was
twenty. It was in her fourteenth year, when Gabriel was either an idle, or else a
feverishly active boy, "a born rapscallion, as our father sometimes called him,"
that Maria Rossetti translated into blank verse the greater part of an ode by the
Cavaliere Campana on the Death of Lady Gwedoline Talbot, Princess Borghese."
In her early womanhood she began the work by which she is known to the public, though Shadow
of Dante was not published till her forty-fourth year; that is about five years before
her death. Referring to this, Christina once exclaimed, "I wish I too could have done
something for Dante in England! Maria wrote her fine and helpful book; William's
translation of the Divina Commedia is the best we have; and Gabriel's Dante and
his Circle is a monument of loving labour that will outlast either. But I, alas, have
neither the requisit knowledge nor ability."
I remember Gabriel Rossetti telling me that he always looked upon his father's study as a
haunted room wherein for a long time he found himself, if alone, beset with a strange
asset ; and that the very books had a conscious and external life of their own. There was,
in particular, a Vita Nuova round which he often imagined he saw a faint light,
which "filled him with a happy terror." As a child he long held the idea that
Dante was not only a friend of his father's, but a sacred and benign though mysteriously
invisible visitor to, if not indeed inmate of, the Charlotte Street, household. So real
was this veritable family spirit that the little Gabriel sometimes feared to meet the tall
gaunt figure of 'Mr. Dante' on the dark stairway: "As soon as I could toddle, I used
to be rather afraid o' nights of meeting Mr. Dante in a horribly shadowy corner of the
second landing, and as for venturing into my father's room in twilight if no one was
there, and there was no fire, I believe I should as soon have said 'Damn Dante!' if my
infant mind had known the use and meaning of the expletive."
The elder Miss Rossetti had also something of her elder brother's artistic faculty. Two or
three designs in A Shadow of Dante were her own work. In addition to this book
there is one imaginative essay by her which is practically unknown. It is very scarce
indeed; possibly not half a dozen copies are extant. I have seen one copy only, that which
was lent me by Miss Christina Rossetti. it was printed privately in 1846, when the
authoress was in her nineteenth year. The title is The Rivulet; a Dream not all a
Dream, and the matter is an allegory of life and religion, where the personalities are
introduced as Liebe (Love), Selbsucht (Selfishness), Eigendunkel (Presumption), and Faule
(Indolence). The "rivulets" represent the natural heart of man; the
"serpents " who are for ever fouling the waters, the devil ; the fruit and
flowers overhanging the banks and poisonous when 'they fall into streams, the grosser and
less palpably sinful allurements of the world the crystal mirror which the guardian of
each rivulet has in keeping represents the Scriptures ; the vases of perfume, prayer ; and
the healing water, baptism. The booklet is animated by the same extreme religious
sentiment of renunciation that many years later prompted the authoress to enter the All
It is, of course, generally known that the exiled Gabriele Rossetti was a poet, though it
is not commonly understood how great was his reputation. Christina Rossetti was wont to
speak with gratified pleasure of the wish of the citizens of Vasto (Abruzzi) to see a
suitable memorial in their chief piazza, of the poet patriot and fellow-citizen, "who
was hatched in little Vasto, but whose flight extended throughout Italy," as his
Italian biographer says. It is not commonly known that the poetic strain in the family was
shared also by others of the same generation. In 1763 Nicola Rossetti, a student, a man of
standing in Vasto d'Ĉmmone, married a girl of the same town, Maria Francesca Pietrocola.
Of their several children four achieved distinction. Andrea, born 1765, became known as a
canonical orator and poet; five years later was born Antonio, a poet also; next, in 1772,
came Domenico, who, as poet and journalist and medical writer, filled well his
comparatively short lease of life ; and then, youngest of the family (1783) and most
One day I heard some one speak of this to Christina Rossetti. She replied, that far from
stimulating her the knowledge was something of the nature of a wet blanket. "I feel
that we---I, at least---ought to be far worthier after so much pioneering on the part of
our relatives. I am afraid they would look upon us as mere appendices to the Rossetti
It was not long after my first, though ignorant, meeting with her that her brother spoke
to me about The Germ, and in particular about Christina's poetry. He told me of the
little book of hers printed privately in 1847 by her grandfather, Mr. Polidori---not, as
often stated, Byron's Polidori, who was Mrs. Gabriele Rossetti's brother, but Gaetano
Polidori, who had been secretary to Alfieri. The poetry comprised in this slim booklet was
composed between the young poet's twelfth and seventeenth years. Rossetti enlarged upon
the significance of this collection. He recited the poem called The Dead City, and
indicated the premonitions shown there of Miss Rossetti's best-known long poem---actual
premonitions of now familiar passages, though the formative motive of The Dead City
is quite distinct from that of The Goblin Market. It was he who pointed out that
Blake might have written the four verses called Mother and Child. The powerful and
remarkable sonnet quoted on the second page of this article appeared in the little book
before it saw the light (this was Rossetti's phrase, and he added, " or, rather,
twilight ") in The Germ.
Much impressed by The Dead City I asked Rossetti to lend me his copy of the
booklet. He, however, had no copy. It was then he suggested I should ask the loan of
Christina's, and added, on my reply that I did not know her, "Well, you certainly
ought to know her. She is the finest woman poet since Mrs. Browning, by a long way ; and
in artless art, if not in an intellectual impulse, is greatly Mrs. Browning's superior.
She couldn't write, or have written The Sonnets from the Portuguese, but neither
could Mrs. Browning have composed some of the flawless lyrics which Christina has written.
Go and call upon her. I'll write to her about you. And be sure you see my mother."
Of course I went. When early one afternoon I reached the dull quiet house in
"Torrington Oblong " as Rossetti humorously called Torrington Square, on account
of its shape---one of the many drowsy, faded, ebb-tide squares of central London, I
recognised in Miss Christina Rossetti not only the lady I had met at a friend's house, but
the Christina of Gabriel's portrait. Sufficient likeness lingered in the placid, rather
stout face before me to prove that Rossetti's crayon drawing must have been as I had
always understood in outward similitude as well as in expressional veracity.
"I am pleased to see you and have been expecting you, for I have heard from my
brother Gabriel of your promised visit. Ah," she added, with a quick little gesture,
an uplift of the right hand, in the manner of a musician recalling some fugitive strain,
"but I have seen you before surely ?"
Meanwhile I was unconsciously noting the speaker's appearance. In some ways she reminded
me of Mrs. Craik, author of John Halifax, Gentleman, that is in the quaker-like
simplicity of her dress, and the extreme and almost demure plainness of the material,
within her mien something of that serene passivity which has always a charm of its own.
She was very pale, though there was a bright and alert look in her large and expressive
azure-grey eyes, a colour which often deepened to a dark velvety shadowy grey, and though
many lines were imprinted on her face, the contours were smooth and young. Her hair, once
a rich brown now looked dark, and was thickly threaded with solitary white hairs rather
than sheaves of grey. She was about the medium height of women, though at the time thought
her considerably shorter. With her quietude of manner and self-possession there was a
certain perturbation from this meeting, with a stranger, though one so young and unknown.
I noted the quick, alighting glance, its swift withdrawal, also the restless intermittent
fingering of the long thin double watch-guard of linked gold which hung from below the one
piece of colour she wore, a quaint old-fashioned bow of mauve or pale purple ribbon,
fastening a white frill at the neck.
"Now where have I seen you?" she r sumed with pretended provoked perplexity.
"Though I did not know who you were, Miss Rossetti," I replied, "the
occasion was made memorable to me by something you said, 'The Souls of the Living are the
Beauty of the World !'"
"Ah, now I remember! Of course! But, oh, it was not I who said that, you know. I
merely repeated it. Strangely enough I cannot remember where it occurs in Bacon. Do you
know? No? Then you must help me to find out. Do you know Richard Garnett, Dr. Garnett of
the British Museum? He knows everything, I am told, fortunate man! and he will help us out
of our dilemma."
Thus chatting, she led me upstairs to the small drawing-roorn. I recollect noticing the
delicate courtesy of the "us," and also my surprise at the blithe cheerfulness
voice and manner, so utterly unlike the description given to me by one who professed to
know her, but whose knowledge must have been at sight only. She was laughing at Gabriel's
name for Torrington Square, a nickname which seemed to be new to her, when she opened the
door of the sittingroom where she had been reading to Mrs. Rossetti.
The dear old lady---one of the most winsome and delightful women of advanced age I have
ever met, I can say, and who ever lived, I would say---won my allegiance at once. She
insisted on rising, held my hand in hers, looked benignly, but keenly, into my eyes, and
said, "So you are a young friend of Gabriel's. That alone makes you welcome. How is
he? When did you see him last? So late as last week? And is he well? I am glad. Ah,
Christina," she added, looking at her daughter, as she reseated herself, "I am
afraid our young friend is repeating one of Gabriel's kindly fibs when he says that
Gabriel is sleeping well and is in much better health."
After tea Mrs. Rossetti asked me if I had ever read Southwell's poetry; and on my reply
that I had not, she added, " My dear Christina was reading a wonderful little poem of
his just as your visit was announced. I am sure you would like to hear it. My dear, do
read it again." It was thus I came to know that wonderful Elizabethan precursor of
" The Songs of Innocence," "The Burning Babe." Thepoem is in itself
strangely moving; how much more impressive, then, when recited by one of the chief
Victorian poets in her own home and during the auditor's first visit !
I can see that small and rather gloomy room with Mrs. Rossetti sitting back with a white
Shetland shawl across her shoulders and the lamplight falling on her white hair and
clear-cut, ivory-hued features, as she waited with closed eyes the better to listen ; at
the table Miss Rossetti, leaning her head on her right hand, with her right elbow on the
table and with her left hand turning over the leaves of the book ---if I remember rightly,
a new edition of F. T. Palgrave's Children's Treasury of Lyrical Poetry.
With an exquisitely clear and vibrant voice, though with a singular rise and fall,
correspondent to Gabriel Rossetti's moving and sonorous organ music, Miss Rossetti read,
with infinite feeling, the lines beginning, "As I in hoary winter's night stood
shivering in the snow." Occasionally she prolonged the music of a line into a slow
rhythm, with a strange suspiration that, I imagine, was characteristic, particularly when
she was strongly moved. It was in this way that late in 1885 or early in, 1886 I heard her
read the lyric beginning:
Heaven's chimes are slow, but sure to strike, at
Earth's sands are slow, but surely dropping through ;
And much we, have to suffer, much to do,
Before the time be, past,
with, I recollect, an unexpected and haunting iterance
of the line
Chimes that keep time aye, neither slow nor fast
each word as complete and separate in ennunciation as
notes of music struck slowly.
There was one line of Southwell's in particular which she read with communcative
emotion---emotion felt by Mrs. Rossetti, who opened her eyes, glanced at her daughter, and
with murmuring lips reclosed her eyes. It was the line:
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes
shame and scorn.
During that visit, again, I had cause to note , how
scrupulous, if at the same time reticent, Christina Rossetti was in any matter where
conscience impelled her to a protest, though always one gentle, or at least courteous. Nor
did the rigour of her views involve her in any narrowness of judgment, much less in
I may quote aptly here one or two letters from among those she wrote to me on several
occasions. At the beginning of May 1884 I called to see Miss Rossetti, and to leave her a
just published volume of verse, but failed to find her at home. The poem I most cared for
was the Epilogue Madre Natura, but instinct told me Miss Rossetti would neither
like nor approve so pagan an utterance and surmise was correct.
" . . . . I might say, 'Why do you call just when
we are out ?' only that you might retort, 'Why are you out just when I call ?"
"Thank you very much for your new volume and yet more for the kindness which enriches
the gift. You know how my mother and I hold you in friendly remembrance." (Then
follow some kindly words of discrimination and praise; and finally this:)
"Shall I or shall I not say anything about Madre Natura? I daresay without my taking
the liberty of expressing myself you can (if you think it worth while) put my regret into
words. . . ."
Though I cannot recall what I wrote, write I did
evidently; and obviously, also, with eagerness to prove that, while I acceptecl her gentle
reproof in the spirit she advanced it, I held the point of view immaterial; and no doubt a
very crude, epistle it was, in both thought and diction.
"May, 5, 1884.
". . . Your friendliness and courtesy invite mine;
pray believe in mine whatever I say, as I believe in yours in spite of what you say.
Will you not, on consideration, agree with me that it is out of the question for a
Christian really to believe what every Christian professes to believe and yet to
congratulate a friend on believing something contrary? On your having passed from a cruder
form of negation I do heartily congratulate you. And now . . . nothing but goodwill and
the desire to do right move my pen . . . "
I quote these extracts from personal letters only
because of their inherent interest, as illustrative of a distinctive trait in the
character of Christina Rossetti. From one more, written in 1886, is a point of interest,
concerning Christina Rossetti the poet: "I heartily agree in setting the essence of
poetry above the form." This point she extended on a later occasion, when she said
that the whole question of the relative value of the poetic spirit of a poem and the form
of that poem lay in this : that. the spirit could, exist without form, whereas the form
was an impossibility without the spirit, of which it was the lovely body. More than ever
after the death of Mrs. Rossetti, with broken health and a deep seated ill that was
wearing her away, Christina Rossetti turned her face to that world of Soul, which indeed
had always been to her a near and living reality. The rumour of other waters was ever in
her ears. The breath of another air was upon her brow. The assertion, sometimes made,
that, in later life, she was a Roman Catholic is incorrect. From her girlhood to her
death, she was strictly a member of the Anglican Church. Naturally, she had much sympathy
with the Church of Rome, and had a great admiration for its ordered majesty of
organisation ; but, strangely enough, the "rock which she took to be a beacon of
wreck was Mariolatry. This, at all times, seemed to her to be the cardinal error in Roman
Catholcism. It is interesting to note that Gabriel Rossetti was more attracted by the
spiritual and human significance of Mary than by any other dogma of Rome. He told me once
that the world would come to see that the lasting grit in the Romish faith ---"a
'grit' which would probably make it survive all other Christian sects "---was based
upon this idealisation of humarity, through the mother-idea, in the person of Mary ; and
that, whatever potent development the Protestant sects might have, " they would
always, lacking the exalted recognition of Mary, be like Church services without music
wherein all can join." On the other hand, it must be admitted that Christina's belief
was a profoundly felt and lifelong conviction, while that of Gabriel was, if not
intermittent or accidental, more an expression of the opining temperament than of the
In one place, explicitly, as in a hundred places indirectly, Miss Rossetti has affirmed
her faith. In one of the little known prose books she wrote in later life (which as she
said once, smiling rather sadly the while, the literary world that praised her so much
studiously ignored) there is this significant passage: "To myself it is in the
beloved Anglican Church of my Baptism that these things are testified, a living Branch of
that Holy One, Catholic and Apostolic Church which is authoritatively commended and
endeared to me by the Word of God. Christ, Whose mystical body She is, is her over-ruling
Will and Power ! "